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A good book on Medieval Clothing...

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I have been working out of a very general book on medieval dress--which is all my library has to offer on the subject--and I've decided I need something better. Unfortunately, the local bookstores don't have much of anything either. This leaves me buying something online.  I hate buying books online because I can't flip through an online book and make sure it's what I want. I've been reading descriptions and reviews, but I'm afraid that even with all my research I'll still end up buying something utterly useless. I don't really have the money to make a mistake like that. Does anyone here have a suggestion for a good solid reference book on the subject--preferably with lots of pictures?

I'm looking for a book that includes fashions for all stations in life, including what children wore, and the textiles that were available at the time. I've been researching online, but the information I find is as general as the book I have been working from--and for every good piece of info I find, I get ten different sites trying to sell me medieval or renaissance fair clothing. I have a really good book on medieval life, but the only clothing it talks about is armor. Please help.
#1 - March 26, 2012, 03:20 PM
« Last Edit: March 26, 2012, 06:30 PM by Michelle DP »

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Have you checked Dover Books?  They have a ton of books on clothes from different eras.  Here's a link to their Costume section: http://store.doverpublications.com/by-subject-antiques--collecting-costume--textiles.html
#2 - March 26, 2012, 03:26 PM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)
www.marissadoyle.com
www.nineteenteen.com

Would websites help? - http://www.virtue.to/articles/
#3 - March 26, 2012, 03:57 PM

One site recommends the following books:

"...The Anglo-Saxons edited by James Campbell ( Penguin 1982) contain many photos of manuscript personages, along with carvings depicting clothed figures. Dorothy Whitelock’s Beginnings Of English Society (a source I never tire of citing) speaks to wills and bequests, and Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale Owen-Crocker is an essential source.  An earlier book by the same scholar, then writing as Gale R. Owen, Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons (recently reissued by Barnes & Noble) contains detailed information on clothing and jewellery in grave finds."
#4 - March 26, 2012, 04:10 PM

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Michelle, can you tell us more about what era and region you're working with? I do historical costuming (but my period is the early Renaissance through the 18th century, alas), and can ask my costuming brethren for specific recommendations. Beware of reprints of 19th Century books; they can be iffy on their accuracy. One exception is Karl Kohler's A HISTORY OF COSTUME, although criticism has been raised about the 1920s English translation that's commonly available.  And I'm sure you know that it can be difficult to interpret even the most reliable data about clothing, because of differences in literacy, terminology, etc, from region to region and seamstress to seamstress.

In the meanwhile, really, Eric has pointed you to a *very* good site. Cynthia Virtue knows her stuff. (And speaking as a costumer-slash-author, often the best information available--the most cutting edge scholarship, etc--is in fact from re-enactors, who are on the front lines of working with extant garments in museum collections and doing the "experimental archaeology" of making and wearing the clothing! But it can definitely be hard to wade through, unless you just like that kind of thing. :whistle)
#5 - March 26, 2012, 04:43 PM

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I have a copy of English Costume from the 14th through the 19th Century by Iris Brooke and James Laver. It was published in 1937--I found it in a used book store. It has over 400 pages of drawings and descriptions of clothing and hairstyles for all walks of life. I'm not sure if it's still in print--maybe check the library? Good luck!
#6 - March 26, 2012, 05:22 PM

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The Costumer's Manifesto is a good website that might offer info:
http://thecostumersmanifesto.com/index.php?title=General_Information_on_the_History_of_Costume

I use it when I construct theatre costumes. :frog:
#7 - March 26, 2012, 06:58 PM

Thank you for all of your replies. My main character wears a kirtle at one point, which puts me in the Late Middle Ages or the beginning of the Renaissance depending on how you date it. It's a fantasy so I can fudge a bit, but I want to use as much historical accuracy as I can.

I didn't find the Brooke and Laver book, but I discovered that they wrote books separately--and some of those are in my library. I don't know what they didn't come up on previous searches, but I know they are there now.

My main concern, besides general accuracy, is finding out what children wore. The first scene starts with a girl putting on her best dress to meet her new stepmother. My crit group said I needed more specifc details about the dress, and it's a great opportunity to set up the time period.
#8 - March 26, 2012, 07:51 PM

Chiming in to say *thank you* for that web site! I've got a WIP that is in research mode and I needed wardrobe details for 14th century France. Looks like I'm set now!
Also, my kids need a Renaissance outfit every year for school and we were running out of ideas. This will help tons!
#9 - March 26, 2012, 07:56 PM
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Michelle, children wore what their parents wore, only smaller. :) Even a very wealthy person wouldn't have very many changes of clothing; an everyday dress and a best dress would constitute an average person's whole wardrobe. Clothing was FAR more expensive, relatively, than it is today--in THE TUDOR TAILOR, historian Ninya Mikhaila notes that a full suit of early 16th C. clothes (undergarments to gown+overgown/doublet+jerkin to outerwear) would be a purchase equivalent to a decent used car.

Kirtles were worn throughout the middle ages and Renaissance, and changed shape as fashions changed. They are a basic first layer of female clothing (over the smock/chemise, which is the entirety of your underwear AND pyjamas) for almost all eras and regions (with different names, of course). They could be worn either alone for hot weather or work, or under a more elaborate (slash warmer) gown. Generally they are also the supportive layer, in lieu of corsetry. (Not, obviously, an issue for a child! ;))

Here's a website for a very well-respected costumer who does medieval clothing:
http://www.revivalclothing.com/shopbytimeperiod.aspx They carry everything from Vikings to High Middle Ages, using accurate fabrics or good approximations. I don't believe they carry children's wear, but it would have been very much the same as the adult versions.

***
Now, all that said... you don't want to go overboard with your clothing descriptions, unless it's appropriate for your character/voice. I generally know my characters' clothing very, very well, but I still try to keep the descriptions to a minimum. Enough to get the idea across, or when details are important in the story or enlighten the reader about the time period (like when a character removes her sleeves in the heat), but not so much that the descriptions become burdensome or sound like I'm showing off my costuming knowledge.

Have fun! Feel free to pm me if you need more specific info!
#10 - March 27, 2012, 12:52 AM

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Oh, and a couple quick things that will help make everything more authentic, without going overboard on detail:

--Everyone wore hats or headcoverings of some kind, nearly all the time.

--Shoes were more common than boots, and coats were more common than cloaks. (Two fantasy favorites, alas!)

HTH!
#11 - March 27, 2012, 04:23 AM

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i have used The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England (Kathy Emerson) for research.  I did note that there is book in that same  series called:  The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles from 500 to 1500 (Sherrilyn Kenyon).   I saw it on Amazon.com.   :turtlego:   (love this turtle smiley-thingie....it's how I feel today plugging away on my WIP.)
#12 - March 27, 2012, 06:41 AM

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